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October 1, 2019

Dignified life remains a dream for older people


October 1, 2019

Islamabad: My husband used to work as a mason until he suffered an accident at job and broke his leg. He is 70 years old, bedridden now, and no longer able to work. We have so source of earning and are dependent on our neighbours for basic necessities of life, said 68 year-old Khursheeda, who lives with her husband in a single-room accommodation close to Bari Imam.

Most of the older men and women in Pakistan are living without any pension or social protection—a situation that increases their vulnerabilities in tandem with poverty. Usually, older people in Pakistan live with their families and are dependent on their children, who are culturally their primary caretakers. However, family structures are changing, and over the last three generations, the percentage of older people living in joint families has decreased. Khursheeda and her husband also live alone; their only married son lives elsewhere. Since the colony is constructed on government land, they pay no rent; yet, they see little prospects of improvement in their lives, and no hope either.

Poor health is also often a serious challenge and not all older people can afford health services. Public hospitals are overcrowded and do not have special services for older people while private hospitals which could potentially provide exclusive services are far too costly to be accessed.

With life expectancy increasing, many people are living longer now. Pakistan’s male life expectancy has increased from 51.4 years in 1968 to 66 years in 2017, while female life expectancy has risen from 51.5 years in 1968 to 67.9 years in 2017. It is a sign of great development that people live longer, but at the same time, the society needs to make sure that older people are living a healthy, dignified, active and secure life. Due to financial constraints, older men and women not only limit themselves to their homes, which is true for Khursheeda and her husband as well, but also reduce the food they consume and avoid accessing any level of health services. Such isolation predisposes them to psychosocial problems as well.

There has been zero implementation of the Senior Citizen Act, which was passed by the provincial governments of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh and Balochistan in 2014, 2016 and 2017 respectively. The law guarantees a number of welfare and social protection provisions for senior citizens including improved access to health and care services, concession in medicine charges, wards for older people in hospitals, financial support, and concession in transport fares. When Khursheeda was apprised of the possibility of such facilities being available to her, perhaps through the PTI government’s flagship Ehsaas programme, she seemed neither interested nor hopeful, probably because she is now at peace with her circumstances.

Pakistan has no national policy for older people. Such a policy could serve as a guiding document for provinces that have at least passed the Senior Citizen Act. It is about time the government expedited implementation of existing legislation so that people who suffer in silence and whose voices remain unheard can also lead a dignified life.

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